Clinical pharmacokinetic properties of the macrolide antibiotics. Effects of age and various pathophysiological states (Part I)

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1989 Apr;16(4):193-214. doi: 10.2165/00003088-198916040-00001.


The pharmacokinetic aspects in humans of macrolide antibiotics that are currently or soon to be on the market (i.e. erythromycin, oleandomycin, spiramycin, josamycin, midecamycin, miocamycin, rosaramycin, roxithromycin and azithromycin) are reviewed. Macrolide antibiotics are basic compounds, poorly soluble in water, which are mostly absorbed in the alkaline intestinal environment. They are acid unstable, but the newer semisynthetic derivatives (i.e. roxithromycin and azithromycin) are characterised by increased stability under acidic conditions. Macrolides are highly liposoluble and consequently penetrate well into tissue, especially bronchial secretions, prostatic tissue, middle ear exudates and bone tissues, as evidenced by tissue/serum concentration ratios greater than 1. They do not penetrate well into the CSF. Macrolides undergo extensive biotransformation in the liver. With a few exceptions (e.g. miocamycin), the metabolites of these drugs are characterised by little or no antimicrobial activity. Plasma protein binding is variable from one compound to another. At therapeutic concentrations, protein-bound erythromycin accounts for 80 to 90% of the total drug present in the blood, and the fraction is 95% for roxithromycin. The lowest values of protein-bound fraction are observed for midecamycin and josamycin (about 15%), and intermediate values are reported for spiramycin and miocamycin. However, the clinical relevance of this parameter is not clearly established. Plasma half-life (t1/2) values vary for the macrolides described: erythromycin, oleandomycin, josamycin and miocamycin have a t1/2 ranging from 1 to 2 hours; spiramycin, erythromycin stearate, the mercaptosuccinate salt of propionyl erythromycin and rosaramicin have an intermediate t1/2 (about 7, 6.5, 5 and 4.5 hours, respectively); the newer semisynthetic compounds roxithromycin and azithromycin are characterised by high t1/2 values (i.e. 11 and 41 hours, respectively). Under normal conditions, the major route of elimination is the liver. Renal elimination also takes place but it contributes to total clearance only to a small degree, as evidenced by low renal clearance values. The degree of modification of macrolide pharmacokinetics by renal insufficiency or hepatic disease is usually not considered clinically relevant, and no recommendation for dose modification is necessary in these patients. The pharmacokinetics of macrolides are modified in elderly patients. Accordingly, their use must be accompanied by a closer than usual clinical monitoring of the older patient.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Humans


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents